In the previous post in this series I talked to you briefly about Ultra Wide Angle Lenses and how they are a necessary tool in an architectural or real estate photographer's repertoire, but cautioned about the way these technical terms are used by some less than scrupulous photographers to advertise their services. They often use these terms to make it seem like they have something in their arsenal that others don't, or can't be bothered to use, and further more, like that item is not only necessary, but the very difference between bad photos and good ones.
This time around I would like to tackle my personal favorite: HDR.
HDR stands for "high dynamic range". What is that? Well, it's basically a way to show, in one photograph, more than the camera is capable of capturing in a single exposure.
Lets put it this way - cameras can only see a certain range of light and shadow at any given setting. If everything is evenly lit, all it takes is the right exposure and you have a perfectly competent image.
Problem is, interiors are almost never evenly lit. The sun, even when its behind clouds, is immensely powerful. Room lights are no match for what the sun pumps into a room through the windows, even on a cloudy day. The camera can capture the light levels from the windows - but then the rest of the room will be a black hole. Or, it can expose for the room, but the windows will be a nuclear bomb-like explosion of light, obliterating any kind of details in or around them.
Also, rooms are not usually very friendly to light - half walls, door ways, large furniture, dark paint, or simply the fact that one part of the room is further from the window than the other - all add more challenges for the camera to deal with.
Remember, the camera has a "dynamic range", and you can move that range left or right, but you can't make it bigger. Expose for the dark parts - the light parts will be what photographers aptly call "blown out". Do the opposite, and the shadows will swallow the room, every corner a horror film set of gloomy, inky darkness.
Contrary to popular belief, our eyes do the same thing - thankfully our brains compensate for that. Our brains "adjust the exposure", and interpret what the eye sees, often piecing together information from various openings of our pupils. This is seamless to us, our brains do this automatically and we don't even realize they are doing it. We just see the world around us in a way that makes sense to us - not how it is actually physically lit.
In essence, HDR is a way of getting a camera (or more often a computer back at the office) to do exactly what our brains do.
An HDR photo consists of several exposures (shots if you will) of the same exact scene, but each one with different settings: one that makes the dark areas look great, one that makes the medium areas look perfect and one that tackles those pesky highlights - the really bright parts of a scene.
After this is done, these images are fed into a computer which combines them, using some very complex algorithms, into one picture where everything is (theoretically) evenly lit. In theory, this produces a perfectly exposed picture without eye-gouging highlights or pit of despair shadows.
In theory, communism works really well, too.
Yet many photographers out there advertise that they use HDR as though it was a magic bullet, had no faults and anyone not using it is selling you short.
This is simply not true, for several reasons:
Now, I know I seem very negative towards HDR, and the fact is, I don't believe it to be the best way to produce a quality image. For decades - long before computers and digital imaging - photographers have taken wonderful architectural and interior images. They used lighting and knowledge of their craft. But, it is not HDR itself that bothers me the most. As with the previous post on this theme, it's the lack of honesty that bothers me. It is taking your clients for people of questionable knowledge, and of course, exploiting the fact that they are not, one and each, a photography expert. It's pulling wool over your client's eyes, a smoke and mirrors show. It's the attempt to razzle-dazzle your clients with terminology you hope they won't understand in order to make yourself look somehow more special. I can't stand that and I would never treat my clients this way because it is not how I would like to be treated.
And to wrap this up, here is the final bit of "dirt" on HDR: it is advertised as a magic bullet without which good interior photos could not be achieved, something special for which you should feel lucky you're not being charged extra. In fact, it's the quick and dirty way to do things. It allows just about anyone to "set and forget" their camera to fire off several frames at different exposures, and then a computer to mangle those images into the final product, quickly and with a minimum of effort or skill on the photographer's part (and trust me, it shows!). Yet it is sold as something special that you, the client should be impressed with.
And in the end, serious photographers with skill, talent and experience actually have a slang term for HDR: they call it
I know, its less than tasteful, but very descriptive. Steer clear of photographers who advertise their gear or their magical computer software instead of their skills and talent, customer service and dedication. The photographs should speak for themselves and the latter two items should be apparent from the first time you speak to the photographer you're considering.
TwoSixPix philosophies, tips and tricks, and just a little peek into who I am behind the camera.